Preface. Obviously the planet is finite. We’re using many times more oil than we’re discovering, and therefore at some point global oil production will peak and decline. In fact, global oil production peaked in 2018 (EIA 2020) or 2008 (EIA) and conventional oil (most of our oil) reached a plateau in 2005.
Yet even now this reality is denied by most, so much so that low prices after the last financial crash caused by high oil prices, has led to the public buying gas guzzling light trucks and SUVs.
What follows are the experiences of members of several peak oil groups (energyresources, runningonempty, sfbayoil, and so on, most of them from 2000 to 2005) about their experiences of trying to tell friends and family about peak oil and limits to growth. You may also want to read James Hecht’s “Collapse Awareness and the Tragic Consciousness“.
I recently stumbled on a post from 2007 by Edmund Fitzgerald called “How Many Understand?” He looked at how many members there were of various groups, and estimated perhaps one one-hundredth of one percent of our world’s population (670,000, or one in ten thousand) may have been exposed to the concept of limits, and the reality of depletion and looming energy constraints. Of these, perhaps 10% (67,000) might have the level of expertise and study which a few of us have achieved by examining material for hours each day for the past ten years or more. I came up with a roughly similar estimate on my own looking at memberships, including theoildrum which had more viewers than any other website devoted to energy resources and limits to growth.
Fitzgerald concludes with “This severely limits the ability of the masses to understand our folly, as William Rees wrote in “Is Humanity Fatally Successful ?” or as Albert Bartlett says, “to understand the exponential function.” This shows the impossibility of achieving a “critical mass” of public understanding in time to accomplish all but the most minuscule attempts at population control, resource sustenance and biosphere caring necessary for our continued (sustainable) survival. Some, of course, will squeeze through the resource constraint bottleneck, but most will not. The survivors will live in a resource-depleted world. It’s too bad our understanding, en masse, could not evolve as quickly as our numbers.”
EIA (2020) International Energy Statistics. Petroleum and other liquids. Data Options. U.S. Energy Information Administration. Select crude oil including lease condensate to see data past 2017.
IEA (2018) International Energy Agency World Energy Outlook 2018, page 45 peak oil 2008 and figures 1.19 and 3.13. International Energy Agency.
Alice Friedemann www.energyskeptic.com author of “Life After Fossil Fuels: A Realith Check on Alternative Energy”, 2021, Springer, “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer, Barriers to Making Algal Biofuels, and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Collapse Chronicles, Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report
Bruce: My girlfriend simply does not want to hear it, so we don’t discuss it. Many other people, shown the die off graph I keep in my pocketbook, seem intrigued and concerned, but don’t rush off and sell their cars or do anything to change their investments or plans etc. It sometimes feels as though there’s a stampede of a million innocent cattle towards the cliff, and the only cowboys are Jay Hanson and I.
One thing I’m a bit sad about is the shock and grief that we are in fact pushing onto the basically innocent sleepy world. When we “succeed”, that “critical mass” may by itself have a massive shock effect on the stock market, employment, etc.
After a year of talking to people, here’s my guesses for the main subliminal reasoning why people think the energy crash is impossible:
- It’s impossible because whad’ya mean energy crash, never heard of it.
- Because we’re doing fine. Just some hiccups in the supply.
- Because they know what they’re doing and would have told us by now.
- Because I haven’t got time for an energy crash right now.
- Even if I had time, I couldn’t afford one. Look at my credit card.
- The oils wells have never run dry before, so they never will.
- Rain refills water wells. For oil wells: acid rain or something.
- Because oil wells are big slot machines, put money in, get oil out.
- Because they’ll think of alternatives-ha-ha-silly-billy.
- The oil companies have things up their sleeve they’re going to bring in.
- Because God looks after me.
- I need a car for work so it’s impossible.
- Impossible because you’re just trying to scare us.
- It’s impossible because you’re crazy.
- It’s impossible because ya have to stay positive.
The purpose of truth is to maximize later happiness and reduce later misery. We only face hard truths in order to avoid suffering. Truth serves total happiness. But in the context of the overwhelming energy decline holocaust, truth may not serve us as well as optimistic delusion — if you are going to get dental root canal done, do you prefer the “truth” of no anesthetic, or the “delusion” of anesthesia?
In view of the size and speed and intractability of the energy holocaust, I’d suggest we’re wiser to allow humanity to remain deluded rather than publicize the energy decline. It’s mainly my lifelong habit of facing hard truth to avoid worse misery that compels me to tell others, and of course my personal intellectual vanity gloating about being “the one who knows”. So, I vacillate, sometimes having a rave to a new acquaintance about it, and often just keeping quiet.
Whether to tell others about the coming oil crisis depends on how grave you think the energy decline will be, and whether a person can actually gain from knowing from it. Imagine, for example, a world in which the media has suddenly shouted the truth about the energy decline so that everyone knows what we know. A better world?
Oliver: I think there is perhaps a belief that the government will “do the right thing” which allows people to “turn off”.
I once mentioned the impending oil depletion to my mother, who was very concerned at the time, but has apparently forgotten about it. It seems to require a certain type of person to appreciate the evidence and not get turned off by the whole thing.
Once past the peak, oil extraction can no longer meet demand and we start having shortages …this is an important thing for people to understand, since most people at first glance, look at 50% of oil left and think, “well, that’s going to last just as long as the first 50%”. Common sense, right?
It’s hard not to feel it’s all fantasy, looking out the window and seeing a bright sunny day. But then I notice the cars, the transport trucks, the transport ships, and the trains carrying food… Most people really don’t really understand how much we rely on oil. This is understandable, since our modern society *is* complex. It’s like trying to comprehend the distances between the planets, starts, and galaxies. It’s big, really big. You take oil out of the picture, and things will stop working they way they are now.
Clyde: To get people to voluntarily change their lifestyles is a VERY hard sell. And as Jay Hanson recently pointed out, simply increasing the efficiency of systems is usually counter-productive because it allows more people to do what had been done by fewer prior to the improvement. That just ups the ante when the time of reckoning comes. It seems likely to me that people will only change when change is forced on them. I doubt that your time is well spent trying to convince everyone that the end is near. The message will probably be received with about as much concern as when one sees a religious zealot walking on the street with a sandwich board proclaiming the end is near. It is probably a better use of one’s time looking out for family and friends who share your viewpoint. Those who are prepared stand a better chance of making it through the difficult times ahead.
Tom: I tried to start a dialog with my brother about some of the things we’ve been discussing. He is firmly entrenched in the “man was meant to dominate the earth” mindset. His reactions were as follows:
- You guys have been preaching doom and gloom for years and none of it has happened. Why should I believe you now?
- There are scientists working on these problems. When the need arises we’ll find the answers. We always have.
- The people who are putting out this information simply have a leftist political agenda to change the American lifestyle.
- You can’t force unwanted changes on people as long as there is scientific uncertainty about the need for it.
I would guess this is typical of the reaction you will get from most people in the U.S. So I doubt social change will happen in time.
The other evening I was having a beer with a group of friends from our local Sierra Club chapter. These were all very environmentally concerned people. I asked everyone in general “what are we going to do when the oil runs out?” Blank stares. One guy said “nukes”. Another said “we’ll walk a lot”. Then I asked how much longer until we are in a serious oil crisis.
No one knew. One guy thought we had another 30 years. I said try 10 at the most. Another fellow in his 30’s said you mean it’ll happen in my lifetime? I said you better believe it will.
Then I found out that our chapter president who is about to turn 50 is expecting a baby in May. I didn’t know what to say. (He was the one who thought we had 30 years of oil left.) When I got home I forwarded him some articles from the dieoff.org website.
I have found that people don’t want to know or think about the oil depletion scenarios. I’m doing all I can to tell people with letters to the editor. But realistically what can most people do anyway. The average person doesn’t have the money for a PV system. We need our cars to get to work so we can put food on the table and a roof over our heads.
Lise: I have brought up the point that there can only be so much oil available and that Nature takes a heck of a lot longer to make it than we can use it. I’ve also asked people to look around them and I’ve asked what would be missing if we didn’t have any more oil. Since a lot of our synthetic materials and plastics are oil-based, it doesn’t take them long to see how dependent we are…it’s not just a matter of fuel. But they usually don’t quite make it all the way to the holocaust scenario mainly because a lot of them still believe that Uncle Sam will protect and save them.
Hallyx: I’ve been aware of Earthcrisis and particularly the oil peak for over a decade. For the past two years, I closely monitored the Y2K computer situation as a model of individual and sociological response to impending crisis.
Now here’s a delicious bit of irony. Throughout my Y2K discussions, few if any were prepared to consider climate, soil, water, species decline or oil peak as worth worrying about. Even the most doomly of the Y2Krowd are still Pollyanna optimists when it comes to Earthcrisis. Of course virtually all of my “green” friends rolled their eyes in barely concealed contempt whenever Y2K was discussed. Now their Save-the-Earth message is even more fiercely condemned as mere wolf-crying.
And all this discussion is among people who have the intelligence and heart to be concerned enough even to learn and to talk about the issues, a vanishing small percentage of the American people.
Thomas: The idea that we are about to run out of resources has been debated at least from the days of Adam Smith and Tom Malthus thru Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon…a span of about ten generations. So far, each of those generations has seen their standard of living exceed the preceding one’s. Any shortages have been short-lived; either supply and demand has come back into balance, or new resources replaced the old. Why should a reasonably well-educated John Q. Public, who knows of this 200+ year background, listen to us now?
Sherwood: There seems to be no universal consensus on what should be done. Indeed, the RunningOnEmpty scenario implies that for most, there’s no effective answer to insure their own personal survival. Such a message is not going to be popular, to say the least. It will be easy to dismiss this as a crackpot vision of the future until the crude stops flowing. There are many who remember the gas lines of the 1970’s and will dismiss this as just another manipulation of the oil companies or oil exporting countries attempting to gouge the consumer, not the oil itself is running out. Y2K experience suggests that the .999 percent will indeed wait until they can “see” something happens with their lives. If so many people can’t be sustained in the post oil era, why bother to convince them?
Scott: …it matters not at all whether anybody “listens” or not. It is all coming down – regardless of how “awake” we are or become. I suppose being aware of the Titanic’s plight, AFTER hitting the iceberg (that’s where we are, by hypothesis), might have allowed more time to get the chairs on deck stacked nicely or something, but it would not have increased the number of lifeboats.
In fact, from a certain point of view, it is better for the survivalists if fewer people awaken, and begin to compete for the inexorably shrinking resources.
I may be wrong, but it seems reasonable to suppose that if as many people as possible are notified about the coming holocaust, they will act in ways that delay it and reduce its impact on them. Even the way they choose to suffer or die.
- It’s reasonable to give people the choice of whether or not to bring new children into this future.
- It’s a good idea too, to loose all the marvelous other minds of the world onto this monstrous problem.
- We are not unquestionably right in our forecast and conclusions that nothing whatsoever can be done.
- It is simply not fair to others to remain silent.
- Even considering the future, caring about others is what makes my life bearable and meaningful, so if I can, I’d prefer not to stop. It just seems a more deeply satisfying way to suffer and die. With and for others.
James: People have been shouting about any of a hundred extinction threatening forces for decades, and no-one takes any notice. This is because the majority of people are ruled by emotion. If they want something to be true badly enough, they will convince themselves that it is true regardless of the facts.
The reason there are so few people that don’t understand it is because no one wants to understand it. ‘Limits to growth’ was published in what, 1979? Nothing has changed.
The information has been available for decades, activists have been working for decades, and nothing has changed. That is because lack of information is not the problem.
Tom: This summer, I will be teaching writing to my usual class of pre-freshmen at Hampton University in eastern Virginia–a conservative African-American university, I am about the only one on the faculty who gives any thought at all to the kinds of vital issues we are discussing here and on other Environmental lists.
My students are here primarily to get a degree in order to get a high paying job with a corporation, so that they, unlike their struggling parents or sharecropper grandparents, can enjoy the blessings of an affluent middle-class life–prestigious careers, leafy suburbs, a big, beefy SUV in the driveway, three kids, a local swimming pool, soccer on weekends, fancy new cars and computers, shopping binges at the local mall, and vacations in Europe or Cancun. This is what they are going to college for; it is what they all expect. AND NOBODY HAS TOLD THEM THAT IT’S ALL A LIE.
How can I tell these kids that everything they’ve ever known, all their hopes and dreams, will crash and burn when the oil runs dry? How can I tell them that in 30-odd years, when they aren’t even as old as I am today (50), they and their children and everyone they will most likely die a horrible death from violence or starvation or both?
Quite simply, I can’t tell them that. I can’t puncture the bubble of their dreams; they would never forgive me. I can’t tell them that their future has been cancelled for lack of fuel. It would be too cruel, too brutal to tell them the dreadful truth.
Jeff: Allow me to dash off a working journalist’s viewpoint. First, there’s the problem of credibility. I’ve been writing energy stories for decades, but I confess that when I first encountered the dieoff.com back in 1997 I dismissed it as just another millennial apocalypse site, the petroleum version of y2k…
You ask why people don’t make what appears to be the next logical step, “economic ruin and massive die off of ‘surplus’ population.” That’s what they said about Y2K, nuclear winter, and saccharine. The writers, editors, and owners of any major publication can’t tell their readers that their grandchildren are doomed and still retain their own credibility. The principle is called balance statement and counter-statement. They might go along with a section or even a full article that says: “Jay Hanson, a well-known energy researcher in Hawaii, warns…” but that would immediately be followed by quotes from four other people (probably economists!) roundly criticizing Hanson’s overly alarmist conclusions.
You’re asking for an immediate, all-out, major challenge to people’s world view. From a purely practical viewpoint, it has to be more gradual than that. There’s an educational process involved. Unfortunately, the news cycle these days is dominated by television — which means the story must be visual and it must be contained within a 30-second sound bite, with a new angle every 12 hours to keep it fresh. I’m firmly of the belief that television is the greatest modern threat to a working democracy and an informed electorate. Forgive me, but television is to my social view what economists are to Jay’s. Can you tell I’m a print journalist?
Jay: Why the establishment MUST lie about energy. Recall that the sine qua non of government is public order.  If the truth were known, it would cause panic in the streets. Matthew Simmons makes this point: “Since our current petroleum stocks are now so much lower in both total volume in some areas and days supply throughout the petroleum complex than the industry’s stock levels in 1973, we are far more vulnerable today to a petroleum shortage and the resulting consumer hoarding than we were in 1973.”  So if the truth were told, a hundred million cars would suck-up another ten gallons each (run on the top half of the tank instead of the bottom half). In short, the news itself would cause acute shortages.
Recall that the mass media is not in the business of dispensing truth either. They are in the entertainment business. And panic in the streets is bad for business.
So don’t expect the USGS, DOE, or CNN to tell the truth anytime soon. Truth is not what they are about.
Would we want it any other way? I am not so sure.
How can world leaders inform the public that economic growth will end soon — followed by a global die-off which will kill nine out of ten? If they told the truth they would be butchered by the angry mobs. In the Titanic analogy, the steerage passengers would rearrange the lifeboat assignments. So the band must play on…
Earth is a globe, the ecosphere is materially closed. “Sustainability” would require a society whose population did not increase, that did not use nonrenewable resources, and used renewable resources at a rate that didn’t destroy them. Just changing fuel isn’t going to make any difference.
I remember in the 1950s and 60s how preparation for a nuclear war was quite a fad. Then, by 1970 and beyond there seemed to be general denial within society. There was a “don’t care” attitude, or a “so what” attitude. People who lived in cities or near probable targets simply resigned themselves to live day to day and if the nuke came that was the end of it. They said, “who wants to live after the bomb hits anyway!” I believe that the die off scenario (and global warming) is behaving the same way.
With a monumental threat of proportions that cannot be dealt with on an individual basis, there is a kind of resignation that takes place. This is also true of slowly advancing threats. Humans are not evolutionarily equipped for slow moving threats.
Somehow we seem not to notice. I know a great deal about what is likely to happen, but that does not stop me from wanting a thick, juicy steak dinner or the ability to soak in a hot tub. I still drive an automobile even though I once rode a bike. I think that my attitude is not unusual. People just don’t seem to feel the immediacy of the energy depletion problem.
ANY effort to dispense information into the public domain will find vested interests who oppose you — that’s “politics”…their very livelihood depends upon endless economic growth. Every day, millions of economists work hard to maintain the present dogma — they ARE priests. In order to change the prevailing ideology, one is going to have to discredit the priests. They certainly aren’t going down without a fight.
With regard to tactics, it is literally impossible to oppose the mass media and convince Joe Six-pack to change his ways. It’s been tried for decades by environmental organizations — it simply doesn’t work. The ONLY chance is to convince the billionaires that it is in their own best interests to change the system.
I am convinced that, several years ago (after the PROJECT INDEPENDENCE fiasco), our rulers reached the same conclusion I have: since no solution exists, there is no point in scaring Joe Six-pack. It’s kind of like that movie ON THE BEACH where the radiation cloud is coming and nothing can be done about it. That is why EIA, USGS, Lynch, et al are trying to convince everyone there is plenty of oil and gas.
Once again, I want you all to understand my findings: the reproduction/consumption problem has NO solution: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/the_dieoff_QA/files/farewell.txt or http://groups.yahoo.com/group/AlasBabylon/files/WHY_DIEOFF.htm
You must take personal responsibility for your own family’s future.
I did not choose personal wealth over public welfare. The fact is that I can do nothing to solve the reproduction/consumption problem.
#1. Watch the COPS TV program for three or four nights. Pay particular attention to the “stars” of the show (the people without uniforms). These stars are usually harmless to anyone outside of their own neighborhoods because they are so disorganized and screwed up on drugs.
There are, however, millions of “proles” in these neighborhoods who ARE working, ARE organized enough to keep a roof over their heads, DO pay their bills, and ARE raising a family. These proles do not star on COPS TV.
#2. If the truth about energy were widely known, the economy would be history.
#3. Now flash back to #1 above. What happens if the proles are unemployed and in the streets?
What happens if the whole neighborhood organizes for political change?
Do you really want the news about energy to reach the proles?
Do you really want the stars of COPS TV knocking on your door at 3 am? Not me.
If Joe-Six-pack knew about the peak; knew that everyone in authority and most of academia had been lying to him for at least 20 years; knew the best his kids could hope for was a painless death; the resultant rioting, looting, and total breakdown in infrastructure would make any solution impossible. That’s the best reason NOT to tell the public.
 Thomas Hobbes: “Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man, the same consequent to the time wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
Robert D. Kaplan: “West Africa is becoming the symbol of worldwide demographic, environmental, and societal stress, in which criminal anarchy emerges as the real ‘strategic’ danger. Disease, overpopulation, unprovoked crime, scarcity of resources, refugee migrations, the increasing erosion of nation-states and international borders, and the empowerment of private armies, security firms, and international drug cartels are now most tellingly demonstrated through a West African prism. West Africa provides an appropriate introduction to the issues, often extremely unpleasant to discuss, that will soon confront our civilization.”
Peter: Do we tell the world or not? To give a short answer first, I don’t think you or anyone will be able to convince very many people in the time left. They just will not be able to accept it. It will be easier to remain in denial. What you can accomplish is to alert the more flexible people with open minds to the coming difficulties. The more of such people that can survive, the better the chance that some form of what we call “good civilization” can survive. I have lightly brought up the subject with many of my friends and have been met with denial, attacks, etc. Most conclude I’m just nuts and we drop the subject. These are fairly well educated people. The typical response is, “well, when the price gets high enough we’ll just drill more wells and find more oil”. They fully believe in the economist’s “perpetual motion machine”.
Tom: In my not so mumble opinion, the best route is to make it possible for folks to learn about energy, ecology, and culture and the role such circumstances play in people’s lives. Where I have been able to do this, people get excited and start taking things into their own hands, tending to look not for the cute solar-roller, warm fuzzy idea of the day, but for what works and how they can learn more.
Peter: In one sense, it doesn’t make much difference either way (telling the world). The Great Crash of 1929 was resolutely half-ignored by journalists, politicians, and almost everyone else. The main response was, “it’s not a crash, it’s a correction.” See J.K. Galbraith, The Great Crash 1929.
The metaphor I’ve always liked is that if you drop a frog into boiling water, it’ll jump out, but if you put it into cold water and bring the water gradually to a boil, the frog will die. I’d say the 21st century will be one of Boiled Frog.
However, even if 200 people could outwit 6,000,000,000, the 200 would first have to think of what message they are delivering. Like predestination and reincarnation, you have to take a stand if you expect to get followers.
Jean: I’ve tried telling a few friends and relatives about the Hubbert Peak. The information vanished into a black hole never to be seen again. Fascinating really. That saying about how you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink comes to mind. People just don’t want to hear this bad news. If they were to believe it, what could they do about it, really? The best, most convenient policy is to just ignore the news about oil depletion, hoping it’s wrong or will somehow go away with advances in technology.
Both professionally and in everyday life, I generally make it a policy to tell any particular person useful information only once. If they are too dumb to comprehend it or don’t want to know so be it. It’s a waste of time to do more.
Mike: Humans have exploited resources for most (perhaps all) of history. They have built most of their social structures based on the concept that there was an unending supply of resources to exploit. Look back 300 years to what England did to its hardwood forests, then look what they did about it. That paradigm will play itself out over and over until the combination of population and depletion leaves them with nothing left to exploit.
If there will be a time when benefits run out – “that’s tomorrow’s problem, we’ll deal with it then. This week I’m going on a ski vacation.” Foresight (or vision if you will) is the province of not more than a few. Personal responsibility, intellectual honesty, and concern for others are even more rare as human attributes go.
Of course I know that political/economic system has deliberately concealed the dangers in unrestricted expansion. So what? That is how Machiavellian political systems work. I get the sense that some people are laboring under the impression that “the world can be saved” if enough people are well enough informed. I don’t see any historical evidence to support that conclusion, and I’m not sure what about the present economic/political system is worth saving. I am also at a loss to explain what parts of the system would be of what use in a world where there is little or no oil to do the work.
Christine: I think the current problem (people’s over-reliance on oil and other forms of fossil fuel) stems from the tendency of most people to follow the path of greatest comfort and least resistance. Even when looking at oil and coal depletion, it’s easier for people to comfort themselves by “believing” that only the doomsday kooks think the world is going to come to a screeching halt than it is for them to make changes in their lifestyles. Or say to themselves, “It’s going to happen, but not in my lifetime.” It is not surprising that SUV sales in the US are rising — the design is in place, the manufacturing facilities are tooled for production, and its much easier for the SUV manufacturers to keep making and selling them to a willing public than it would be for them to redesign, retool and remarket a different vehicle. And, I can understand why people choose to walk out their front door and climb into their air-conditioned/heated luxury vehicle to cart them from here to there and back again.
The alternatives take much more effort. Public transit involves walking to a bus/train stop, waiting in line, crowding on to a bus or train with people breathing down your neck. In some cases, public transit is the less stressful alternative — due to traffic, lack of parking, etc. — but in most cases, people will choose their automobile every time.) Bicycling, well, it’s strenuous to say the least and too daunting for most people. Even the people who build power plants are only doing what they are geared up to do. (My greatest dread is that electricity will become so scarce that I will have to give up my daily hot shower!) Change is hard. I don’t think the masses will ever be convinced to willingly make daily, personal changes that would have a real impact. I think it’s going to take a few people with vision, commitment, and resources to “walk the talk” and push through whatever is needed to change the outcome. And I don’t have any clue how to do that.
Ted: Of one thing we can be sure, top down solutions will not work in guiding people towards ‘improving their energy circumstances’. Mass education, mass media, governmental control, and so on, are all sheer folly. Any profound and lasting shift in our socioeconomic paradigm must start at the grass roots, at the level of individuals. That is there where all hope lies. Individuals who understand the problems facing our fragile world must be proactive and must lead by example. For instance, they must build and live in energy efficient structures. They must own and drive energy efficient cars. If they have a garden, they must practice the principles of sustainable agriculture. As to persuading others to do the same, that is a waste of time. When crunch time comes, however, then they will be able to empower change, by sharing knowledge. I suspect that when energy becomes scarce, people will be begging for solutions about energy efficiency and permaculture and so on.
Andrew: How do you respond to dreamers saying something like “If we all converted to Gandhi’s lifestyle (that is AFTER he quit being a fancy lawyer) then world population of say 20 Billion could be sustained ?”
To me this kind of argument, usually backed by an accusation that if you don’t agree with it you are a Nazi-minded ‘eugenicist’, is as sophist as saying “if we covered X thousand sq km of desert with solar cells we could escape energy-triggered economic crisis and civil or international war and strife”
Because it isn’t possible in the timeframe we have. Maybe 85% of ‘ordinary well-informed citizens’ in advanced industrial societies either don’t know, or don’t believe that fossil energy supply will start tapering down pretty damn fast in the next 10 years.
Nearly all the other 15% are sure something will be done to avoid any difficulties coming from fossil energy exhaustion.
Meantime, in the real World, dinosaur-minded politicians and war leaders crunch around for the last major reserves of the Jurassic Energy Fix
Timothy: As I look out of the window of my house this morning, I see many homes surrounding mine. It looks like a lovely community. But that is an illusion. There is no community. Those of us living so closely together barely know each other and we never work together. We are all a part of the neutral world. We mostly ignore each other. In this great neutral world that dominates western civilization, we don’t even know each other. Most of us humans living in this “modern” world are locked in the mindless routine of earning our living, while responsibility for our futures rest in the hands of elected politicians who live in a system designed to grow and profit until it consumes all the natural resources of the earth and then declares bankruptcy.
As the recent events in the Middle East have made clear to everyone, it could be worse. Most humans living in the third world are locked in the mindless struggle for basic survival, while responsibility for their future rests with the warlords who live in a One Bullet=One Vote system of adversary political-economics. This One Bullet=One Vote system cannot create a positive tomorrow. The only way humanity will have a positive future is if we change the rules. To do this all we have to do is change our minds. We will have to make the decision to work together. We can go out into our neighborhoods and introduce ourselves. We can start projects where we work together. The word community is a contraction of the two words common and unity. Or as I like to spell it, CommUnity. We can begin to restructure our lives based on working together, and we must embrace sustainability.
We can take a look at what we need, not at what we want. This means we have to grow up. We must put away advertising because it promotes today’s products that are not local. This in turn will begin to put away consumerism.
When we view Humanity as Community rather than as Individuality it becomes immediately clear that we need to stop having children NOW. Reproduction is not a right. It is a privilege. And, it is a privilege that belongs to Humanity as Community, not to Humanity as Individual.
Robert: Even if the media did an in depth feature story on depletion, what difference would it make? My guess is that it would stay in readers minds for exactly half an hour, then decay as the next new television image or song or thought comes in.
Greg: I finally concluded, just a few days ago, that the battle was lost; that growth had gone on for so long with such high numbers that there was no way back and the trend, as it continued, had swallowed any chance for correction. I think the same reasoning applies to energy and the approaching energy crisis. I think we are getting more and more evidence that the problem of alerting society to the tragedy just ahead is bigger than any solution we members, in or out of the group, might bring to it.
There’s simply too much resistance to the information. I think time will prove that we have been reduced to simple onlookers on History, along with many others, as history and events grind ahead.
Jack: I’ve tried communicating this info to people I work with and associate with. There is one small group of friends, that believe the things we discuss here. The rest quickly forget the conversation, or shift what they say temporarily so that they might pretend to agree with me. I can’t seem to get them over the hump to, what does it mean?
The main difference between the two groups are… 1. Group 1, understands the Laws of Thermodynamics and isn’t afraid of big numbers. 2. Worries about what’s on TV tonight and whether they are up on the current conversational topic. In general, they feel that big numbers have no clear definitions and a deep faith that if there is a problem, then it’s being handled. Comments like, ‘there’s plenty of hydrogen in water’, are enough to soothe them and make them feel better.
There are 4 people in group one, that I personally know. Everyone else is in group two.
We need a severe crisis before the masses will experience maybe a 10% conversion. The other 90% will probably keep arguing that it’s all political and that killing an Arab, will fix the oil depletion problem.
Ron: WE WILL NEVER DO ANYTHING COLLECTIVELY AS A SPECIES. The very best we can ever hope to do is act collectively as a nation. But even this is extremely difficult and requires a very powerful and dedicated totalitarian government, such as the one that currently exists in China. People keep saying that WE must control our population, WE must conserve energy, WE must develop renewables, WE must convert to solar, wind or whatever forms of energy, WE must stop emitting greenhouse gases, WE must do this, that or the other two. Actually we will do nothing of the sort. People, as a whole, never see enormous problems coming in the future and act to head them off. What they really do is wait until the problem arrives, then react to that problem.
It is very true that a few farsighted people, like most of those on this list, see the problem coming and also foresee the enormous consequences of that problem. Then we start screaming, “We are running out of fossil fuels, we are poisoning the earth, we are killing off thousands of species, we are headed for disaster, the sky is falling, the sky is falling!” And of course nobody pays even the slightest bit of attention.
For every Cassandra warning us of the disaster that is to come, there is a Cornucopian telling everyone that this is all the propaganda of doomsayers who do not know what they are talking about. There are several very good reasons for this behavior. That is, there is a very good reason why no one believes the Cassandras and believes the Cornucopians instead. People (in general) always believe to be true that which they desire to be true. And when they are presented with the choice of believing the Cassandra or the Cornucopian, they will most always believe the latter.
Think about it, the lives of their children and grandchildren depend upon it, literally. And I do mean literally, I never use the word as a metaphor. If I tell you that your beautiful, wide eyed little child or grandchild will live in a world of unspeakable horrors but Julian or Bjorn tells you that this is all nonsense, your child or grandchild will grow up in a world every bit as beautiful as the one we see around us today, which would you rather believe? Which do you think the vast majority of people will believe?
So WE are a species who always do that which is in our nature to do. When we are presented with choices in beliefs, we will always choose the most pleasant belief, that is the belief that promises the most pleasant stress free future for us. The vast, vast majority of people simply cannot live with the stress of the knowledge that we are completely destroying any chance for our children and grandchildren to live in the same beautiful world that we take for granted.
Those who take the time to even listen to the Cassandras will deny our claims. But for the vast majority of people there is no need for any denial at all. The possibility of any kind of undesirable future is never even given the slightest consideration. They simply believe their world will last forever. They will shut their eyes and stop their ears to anyone who tries to tell them anything different.
Perry: While I applaud your intent and efforts in the oil depletion communication/publishing venture, may I ask your goals? i.e. what is the intended behavioral change you wish to invoke in others by the publishing of the data regarding the oil depletion, et al? Numerous of those with whom I am acquainted who are aware of the facts simply do not want to change their lifestyles nor their behavior; this includes PhD’s, college profs, businessmen, etc.
They are knowledgeable about the technology, the history, the fundamentals, the premises, the conclusions, etc. – yet most just say “I don’t want to be around when it all happens”. There is a great denial that THEY will be a part of any of what we routinely discuss here happening.
In fact, I think that lack of awareness is NOT the problem, but lack of behavioral change is. I’m convinced that a far greater proportion of the population than we might admit to, IS aware, and IS, in fact, SO aware, that they are scared sh**less; but they also have no means, nor methods, nor leaders, nor education, nor motivation to DO anything about what they already know. So by default, they do nothing.
So, is there a desired behavioral change that you wish to achieve by your efforts, and what portion of the population do you hope to reach by doing so? and when? Do you really believe that political, or governmental, or media, or educational ‘leaders’ will be willing to put their necks and careers on the block for such a non-PC idea as we are talking about?
I’ve talked to, and do continue to talk to those who show even the slightest bit of interest in the subject, but most are not interested in being influenced to DO anything different from what they are already doing.
For example: If we start with Jay Hanson and the Dieoff site, and add Bruce Thompson’s efforts, and ER and ROE and ROE2, and Alas Babylon, and HubbertPeak, and Oilanalytics, and ASPO, etc., and expand those efforts to the max, we might agree that:
- there are 10,000 ? in the world now, who are ‘aware’
- and of those, 500 who have made some ‘significant’ behavioral changes due to their becoming aware
- and of those, 50 perhaps who might be in a position to live without fossil fuels for some extended duration into the future
- and of those, 5 who may survive long enough to pass on their genes to the next generation
I’m willing to help, – but I have to ask: what is the intended outcome you hope to achieve by the effort you intend to expend?
Gerald: I make an effort to bring peak oil depletion to every astronomer who knows me well enough to understand that I don’t go off half-cocked, often in bizarre places like NASA project review panels and scientific workshops. I’m usually successful in getting US colleagues to read introductory info, enough to get them agitated for a few days. Then distractions come, and when I follow up, I inevitably get “well, there’s fusion I suppose …” (perhaps after a cursory investigation into inertial confinement). And an uneasy faith that once the peak is recognized/arrives, “clever” people will finally be brought to bear, political/environmental idiocy will be swept aside by “pragmatists”, the notion that energy overuse can be curtailed by “free markets” (many are Republicans), and “we’ll muddle through somehow”. There’s also a minority but surprisingly large segment who are convinced that God will be evident in the details, a mind split that boggles my mind (around here, they also tend to be Republicans). All this from scientists with children (and often SUV’s). My French/German scientific collaborators are much better informed on energy (and are more cynical on government solutions).
John: I see communities with large numbers of truly intelligent people as few and far between. Most US citizens are frightfully ignorant — just look at how few even accept and understand even basic scientific fundamentals.
Their ignorance is magnified by the fact that most do not even watch the pitiful news on the major networks, but instead rely on pseudo news, talk shows, tabloids, etc. Teens and twenty-somethings are truly appalling — their lack of understanding of world politics, science, etc. is abysmal. Add to that the problem that relatively few have many real-world skills: they cannot build a shed, cook from scratch, plant a garden, fix an engine, etc. Consequently, their outlook during the die off is frightening. Even universities are often only a little better. Most outside academia do not understand just how specialized the knowledge of academics has become. One recent study found that most professors, when writing outside their field, only write at the level and understanding of a typical undergraduate. So the political knowledge of an electrical engineer might be very limited. Add to this the fact that their knowledge is very theoretical, and you have a bunch of folks with many illusions, and only limited real-world abilities. The powers that be, during the last 20 years, have trained a generation of ignorant but easily placated workers. They will reap the fruits of their attempts at control when the hard times come. When the bread and circuses are yanked away, many of those ignorant folks will implode — and many others will explode violently. Fortunately, there are still pockets of intelligence left, and, for many here, your best bet is to relocate to one of those pockets. So this question emerges — what will constitute true post-crash intelligence?
Brian: These are issues that take years of thought and meditation. Concepts of resource depletion, global politics, and the natural state of human culture are not something that fit into 350 word editorials. People will need to read book after book and create a mind set that is capable of handling these realities. Its like a Buddhist telling a westerner to “just read this article and then tomorrow become a Buddha”… On the contrary, it takes rigorous study and discipline- neither of which the American public can be proud of… To assume that the American people will somehow understand what you are talking about and use this information to change their daily lives is delusion. I have written to my local papers numerous times as have others that I know who are aware of peak oil- and nothing more comes in the form of debate. I have posted on the IndyMedia boards on the net that attract like minded individuals and even those who are considered to be counter-culture do not even take this seriously. I pray that it crashes sooner rather than later- these sorts of efforts are noble, but the American people are asleep- lulled by propaganda, american idols, and cadillac escalades… I have made preparations and continue to refine my skills. I suggest you all do the same. This amounts to nothing more than pissing on a forest fire… Retreat. Retreat. Retreat.
Sy: My warnings are almost universally greeted with bemused smiles like those that greet madmen as they share their particular wisdom with the wider world
Of course, their world is all they have ever known. They face what the science-fiction author Ian M Banks calls an “outside context problem”. It is fascinating concept, the short definition of which is a problem whose origin is so far outside of a culture’s collective experience that they are incapable of recognizing it, let alone mounting a defense, leading to the end of their existence. By definition, informing people about something outside their frame of reference is a near-impossible task.
Ben: Judging by what I’ve read here and other websites, pretty much everyone has had the same experience when trying to convince others about this issue. Nobody believes you, some get mad at you or ridicule you, and at best they might be non-commital to your face and disregard it otherwise. I think this is an important issue worth of study because I think it contains the answer of how we got in this mess and also if there is any light at the end of the tunnel (not for avoiding the die off but for humanity ever to escape a fate of slowly disintegrating back into a prehistoric lifestyle).
One of the most interesting things I have noticed is that when the subject of recent energy prices comes up, a LOT of people immediately accuse the energy companies of price gouging or a conspiracy. Now, they have done no research on the subject and it’s not like the media perpetuates this myth. So the question is, where does this idea come from?
Now, we all know that people don’t know why they do or believe anything. My guess is that people know that they are ANGRY, and that our nature predisposes us to solve problems POLITICALLY, so the goal is to find someone to blame. The rationalizing part of the brain now has the job of playing the PR role and filling in the gaps and comes up with “it’s the energy companies’ fault, they are gouging us. Everyone knows that.”
The thing is that people don’t really seem at all interested in peak energy in the first place. I believe that a lot of this has to do with a genetic tendency to view “the commons” as infinite, put here by God to serve us — and making sense of any information that suggests otherwise gets a *Very Low* rating from the Prioritizer part of the brain.
However, that explanation doesn’t quite satisfy me completely after giving it more thought. I think the other part of the problem is that peak energy is not a political issue. We aren’t interested in how much “stuff” we have, as much as we are interested in how much stuff we have compared to everybody else. People today are still unhappy and frustrated even though they have cell phones, the internet, fast cars, etc., because they aren’t want to be where they want on the human social hierarchy. So the reason why people
would rather watch E! or MTV “Road Rules” rather than make sense of the energy crisis is because until they understand how it affects their status in the pecking order, it has *low priority*. And when the energy issue finally does affect their lifestyle, they see “I have LESS stuff, energy companies have MORE stuff”, not “This a serious issue that all humans must deal with collectively to solve.”
If these are the reasons why we can’t get through to anyone about the energy issue, then humanity is essentially doomed. Hundreds of years from now we will still be fighting each other over domination of the world, even if that very fighting has already reduced it to an energy-drained, radioactive desert shithole. And in the short-term, while many of us may be expecting people to suddenly realize the grave importance of energy and to revolutionize our lifestyles — we can instead look forward to various tribal mentalities springing up, with conservatives blaming the liberals for our problems since they won’t let us drill ANWR, liberals blaming the conservatives for letting Big Oil gouge us, and the government in turn blaming everything on terrorism. The fact that you can see elements of this developing already doesn’t bode very well for the future.
Michael: I suspect that the subject of Peak Oil reminds people of their mortality, which for most is never conversation fodder. An almost universal reply I got was “They’ll think of something”. Some chided for being too negative. Some would immediately try to change the subject. Others would stop conversing. Opening the eyes of those who refuse to see is like pissing into the wind.
Lawrence: Peak Oil is a topic I do not bring up that often, because most often the response is negative and sometimes rather hostile. As a rule amongst progressive people there is a tendency to see the problems of the world as entirely due to some elite group. There is a resistance to considering problems as systematic, such as energy depletion as a corollary of thermodynamics or that the human race is overpopulated. I used to say that the crux of our difficulties are to be found in the bathroom mirror. It appears that people have a tendency to see problems in the world as due to some “other”.
As a related matter I find that most people have an inability to imagine a future world without human beings. As I see things Homo sapiens is a terminator species that is stripping down the natural order of things on this planet and converting it all into trash. Along with that we are engineering the next planetary mass extinction, which will probably include the end of our species as well. Most people react to my thesis with a sort of shock and astonishment, as if I just declared my allegiance to the Nazi party. In fact I can lead people to a conclusion where they admit aspects of the argument, but recoil at the final conclusion.
Gregson: I am under the impression that most people in the power and energy business are sympathetic towards the concepts of depletion but like most people they usually just think about next year and not next decade. I also think that telling bad news is a good way to become unpopular.
Low: If neither mainstream religion nor business acknowledges the “Limits to Growth”, while scientists (along with thinking individuals) do, the latter are effectively becoming heretics in their own society. Is that how the ER members are feeling? Like heretics? It’s a strong word, but it might go a long way toward explaining the strange looks and violent reactions ER members get when those who dare to do it, try to explain some of the “peaking” concepts to our family, friends and colleagues.
It’s like telling somebody that almost everything you’ve learned so far is a lie.
It’s like telling somebody “hey, you’ve been living in the Matrix, welcome to the real world”.
Immediate, irrecoverable system shock for most people except the really, really open-minded ones.
Jason: I am referring to what lies ahead as the Perfect Storm. Financial crisis, energy crisis and climate change all coming on at about the same time, perhaps in that order. Another way I’ve put it (to those who bother to listen) is a 1, 2, 3 knock out punch for industrial civilization/our way of life.
Pedro: I have doubts that people will one day awake and be enlightened with the issue of depleted resources, be that moment in the peak itself or several years after.
What I see now is that rulers, controlling the media, have very well managed in the most advanced countries, to convince their people that problems with scarcity of resources or with their security (usually vested under the phrase of “our national interests”) come from Arabs, Muslims or terrorists in general.
I am afraid we may be falling down the slide, the slope or even the steepest cliff and still believing that we have plenty of energy available, but convinced that “terrorists” outside do not allow us to extract it for the benefit of Mankind.
Open your eyes and watch TV and the media. What you see? Are we in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Emirates to squeeze their oil and prevent others squeezing it, or are we there to defend the democracy and the values of the Western civilization against barbarians? What is the use for the smarts, as Denis mentioned, to awake and be aware, if the masses continue believing the unbelievable media tales?
What do you think it will be the response of the masses when falling down even deep into the cliff? Awareness or fascism, enlightenment or a demand for the military to fight terror –- their constructed terror?
I have already a guess…and I would very much like to be wrong.
Brian: I have a confession to make… I have been in this forum for a very long time now, almost from the beginning… I have participated in discussion… I have read most of the posts here… I have a pretty good grasp of what is going on the world politically, geologically etc…
I have listened to arguments presented here and in my daily life on why ‘there is a way’ to careen through our current and future problems… I understand the hope and the potential of humans to ‘find a way’ — it would take a huge collective effort globally to pull it off… I understand all of that…
I get bored, like most people, listening to arguments that play out like a tennis match where neither side listens to the other and where each side just throws the argument back across the net…. the technical mumbo jumbo is not going to save any of us…
I have to confess, my friends, that I am rooting for collapse… it is perfectly clear that the world is in no position currently to collectively solve our the coming energy crisis… the interdependencies of our problems, institutions, governments, etc… I really do not want solutions… solutions may be possible in a bizarro utopian reality- but that is not our reality…
I do not want to enable humanity to continue their consumptive, gluttonous addiction to material things… I do not want science to enable our natural world to be re-sculpted in our image at the expense of all other life… I do not want these things…. do any of you??? Really?
The best thing for our children is for this culture to collapse… I have made and will continue to make preparations for this collapse… if it comes I will be far better prepared than most…. if it does not– I will still be living a life based on nature– a simpler, much more fulfilling life than the one that many are trying to sustain by advocating replacements and alternatives…
The arguments go round and round, becoming increasingly vague, blurred, and confusing… numbers are presented, web sources are cited—after a while it all becomes completely lost in confusion…. I have noticed this phenomenon on most major media outlets… the pundits get the issues completely twisted and spun and confuse the public into a catatonic state….
I would like to know several things– those of you who believe in, and desire, a scientific solution for our current situation: why do you want to continue this consumptive, vapid lifestyle which the united states is marketing to the rest of the world? Do you not see anything wrong with that sort of lifestyle? Does the fact that this lifestyle threatens life on the globe as we know it– be it human life, flora or fauna etc..– concern you in the least?
I am rooting for olduvai… I am saddened that life has become so trivialized….I would like to hear from all of you…
Jason: I agree it is important to give people the message that they are capable of making decisions that will improve the situation. I also believe people need to be scared enough to be motivated to do so. When the current system rewards the opposite of what is for the common good, something like fear is needed to work against that. I think “dieoff” is a fearful concept that people need to understand– first at the immediate level and then in a more nuanced fashion.
You make a good point about what is meant by “dieoff.” The time scale is important. I do see local famines occurring, but not a global one. So local dieoffs will occur, that is certain. In many other places there will be severe economic stress that will both reduce fertility rates dramatically, e.g., Russia, and lead to higher mortality rates for primarily the old and sick. Here’s where your thoughts about the need to accept and appreciate death are important.
I have been to many places in the world were people “get by” in conditions I can barely imagine. So I do understand how adaptable humans are. But I also don’t want the whole world to live in this miserable state, and that is what I fear we will face. I also worry about how people in the spoiled countries will lash out when under stress. This is what keeps me in the political process. I don’t want more wars that perpetuate a way of life that can’t go on.
So a message of both scary realism and hope needs to be carefully crafted.
Archdruid: The difficulty here is that faith in the prospect of a better future has been so deeply ingrained in all of us that trying to argue against it is a bit like trying to tell a medieval peasant that heaven with all its saints and angels isn’t there any more. The hope that tomorrow will be, or can be, or at the very least ought to be better than today is hardwired into the collective imagination of the modern world.
Robert: Most people are aware that tobacco smoke is harmful, yet many still smoke. Most people are aware that war kills civilians, children, and young men in their prime, yet the world is still full of war. Many people are still having unprotected sex, drinking and driving, overweight, etc., despite massive education campaigns spelling out the dangers of these various vices.
Also, the president of the United States has ALREADY told Americans what any of us here at ER know to be gospel regarding Peak Oil [Jimmy Carter’s energy speech]:
AMERICANS JUST DON’T HAVE THE EARS TO HEAR the PEAK OIL blues-news, no matter from whose mouth it comes from!
Cal: Richard wrote: Sadly, there’s a high probability that we’ll choose that faith-based road [techno-fix rather than reduce consumption, revamp infrastructure, reform agriculture, etc]. Part(s) of me is/are not sad. Here’s my “logic”:
- Humanity needs to reduce its population to 1/6 of what it is now.
- The majority of people will cling to the “technology will save is, and if not, our leaders would certainly prevent us from going in the shitter, and if not, God will save us, because He/She/It will not let his chosen people (America, whom He/She/It blesses).”
- This faith-based approached will not result in a large shift in habits.
- 5/6 of the world’s population dies.
- Problem is solved.
The Universe knows (if it indeed even bothers at all with my doing) that I have serious issues with primarily faith-based approaches. And… everything serves, including the faith-based approach. For me (and perhaps for you, Richard, if you choose to take it up), the challenge is to see the value of faith as something other than just superstition and denial, and to see how it serves. [Perhaps it’s a coping mechanism for the 5/6 that will (necessarily) die.
The forces in motion are much larger than we are. If collapse and mass death is inevitable, I can see how most of the 5/6 wouldn’t want to face the awful truth and use faith as their coping mechanism. Why would I require them to face the truth, given that we can’t stop what’s to come? What’s it to me if most people choose (if they even make the choice) to take the blue pill? Understanding that you and I don’t need such a coping mechanism, but not requiring others to face the truth, brings me to a place where I can sit with compassion for humanity.
That said, probably my biggest concern is that those who adhere primarily to faith may not leave a world inhabitable to the 1/6 who continue (or to most of the species that walk, swim, and fly, and it’ll all go bye-bye.
Ed (in 2016): Am I alone feeling despair and depression when confronted with the seemingly endless inability of family and friends to see what we seem to see on this list? I’m 72, and my purpose in passing along what we’ve learned is to attempt to help folks not be blindsided by looming events. It’s been worse than fruitless. I get rejection and the opposite of love — indifference. I also get anger, and statements something like, “Gee, can’t you be positive?” A few years ago I posted a short essay to this group, titled “How Many Understand?” I concluded that perhaps 0.001 percent of the world’s population, or then about 65,000, ‘got it’ at the level and detail that most of us have absorbed for the past twenty years. We are now seeing materialize what we foresaw decades ago, and one would think events currently acting out on the world’s stage would clue folks, but the opposite seems to be the case — heads buried deeper. We’ve all read of the Backfire effect, the Dunning-Kruger effect, complacency bias, normalcy bias, and much more, and we’ve delved deeply into Evolutionary theory and Evolutionary Psychology, so we’re pretty confident that we’re not a bunch of nut cases spouting nasty sorts of pseudoscience, but still, it’s both unnerving and debilitating to be constantly confronted with the degree of abject denial “out there.” Especially from family and close friends. I find I am now so different from nearly everyone around me, that almost any conversation is impossible. How do the rest of you handle this? I’m certainly not doing well with it.
STOP CALLING ME A “DOOMER” By Carolyn Baker Monday, 22 October 2007
People must first be made to give up on the existing system before they will become receptive to fundamental change.
Michael Byron, Ph.D. Author of Infinity’s Rainbow: The Politics of Energy, Climate and Globalization
Last week a review of the documentary “What A Way To Go: Life At The End Of Empire” was posted on Energy Bulletin and sub-titled “a review of a new doomer cult classic.” While the review was favorable, I must state that as someone who has seen the documentary dozens of times, who consistently shows it to my history classes, and who is a personal friend of the film makers, I was appalled at the use of the word “doomer” to describe the film. The reviewer’s use of the term was the culmination for me of the inappropriate use of “doomer” to label individuals who have rejected the soporific of “hope” with respect to the terminal state of planet earth. I am equally unnerved by those who consistently describe me as “negative” and obsessively attempt-almost beg me-to offer them “something positive.” Hence, the inspiration to write this article.
I’d like to begin with defining the word doom. My dictionary defines doom as: “fate or destiny, esp. adverse fate; unavoidable ill fortune.” When I consult a dictionary of etymology, I notice that the term had its origins in the early Christian era and is connected with the idea of divine judgment. Since I have made clear ad infinitum, ad nauseum that the “fate” of the planet is in our hands and that extinction of earth’s life forms including humanity is unequivocally avoidable, labeling me as someone who embraces “doom” is factually erroneous. Likewise, most people who know me well do not experience me as someone who walks around preaching divine judgment. After all, I published my autobiography earlier this year in which I described in vivid detail my exodus decades ago from Christian fundamentalism and all that “divine judgment” yah-yah that I grew up with.
Let me say again: The probable extinction of the human race and all life forms on the planet is absolutely avoidable, and it is not the product of an angry deity who will visit judgment on his naughty children. Only humans can reverse the lethal process they alone have set in motion.
Secondly, anyone who watches “What A Way To Go” to the end will be incessantly confronted with the notion of opportunity that the film makers insist the collapse of civilization brings with it. In fact, one could easily replace nearly every use of the word “collapse” in the documentary with the word “rebirth.” People locked into “doom” do not talk about rebirth; far from it-they are generally depressed individuals who may be looking to throw themselves under the next freight train or jump off the nearest cliff.
The Psychology Of Doomer-Labeling
I have asked myself repeatedly where this label of “doomer” comes from when applied to people who continue to talk about opportunity and rebirth, yet refuse to sell the snake oil of “hope.” I didn’t fully understand the “doomer” label until a friend called after having just heard an interview with Harvey Wasserman, co-author of HOW THE GOP STOLE AMERICA’S 2004 ELECTION & IS RIGGING 2008. What Wasserman stated in the interview and what he also implied in his article “Do The Neo-Cons Need Karl Rove When They Can Count On The Democrats?” is that overwhelmingly, the progressive left does not want to hear the irrefutable documentation of the stealing of the 2000 and 2004 elections-or the compelling evidence that the 2008 election is already stolen! It appears that if they were to fully comprehend the futility of voting in national elections, they might feel-oh dare I say it-drum roll-hopeless?
This reminds me very much of the alcoholic/abusive family system where abuse and addiction are rampant, and someone in the family breaks silence and speaks the truth about what is so. Immediately, that family member is scapegoated, labeled a troublemaker, incorrigible, ungrateful, or in the case of the abuse of the planet and the political systems that enable it, a negative-minded “doomer.” Even worse, in the abusive system, the truth-teller becomes the identified patient, that is, “this family would be just fine if it weren’t for the troublemaker.” Translation: Why can’t you stop being a “doomer” and just vote Democratic, buy a hybrid car, put some curly lightbulbs in your lamps, and think positively?
One result of this finely-tuned denial system is that the truth-teller ends up feeling the feelings that everyone else in the system refuses to feel. The other members of the system are numb or cheerful, but the truth-teller is wracked with anxiety, anger, or depression because he or she is carrying the emotional baggage of the entire system.
Pardon a little bit of ancient mythology, but I’m quite certain that Noah was called a “doomer”. Talk about negative! Talk about raining, so to speak, on humanity’s “perky party”! Truly an identified patient he was.
Derrick Jensen states that everything in the current system of civilization is set up to protect the abusers. Those who refuse to do so will be scapegoated-if not by the abusers, then by their “siblings” who beg them to be quiet and maintain faith in the system.
Please understand that I am not forbidding disagreement. If you can look squarely and rationally at the evidence for the likelihood that civilization has entered a state of collapse and knowing the evidence, disagree with the probability of the extinction of the planet and its inhabitants, that is your prerogative. What I resent is being scapegoated because I have a different perception and I refuse to look at the evidence and still support the enablers of the system that is murdering the earth and every life form on it or because I refuse to say that everything is going to somehow work itself out, that politicians will save us, that solar energy or carbon credits will provide the magic bullet, or that technology will come to our rescue. And-what is more, I refuse to accept the scapegoating of those who absolutely will not face the overwhelming evidence of stolen national elections or who, for whatever reason, expect me to carry the feelings they will not feel and who identify me as the “troubled patient” in their terminally toxic, hope-addicted reality.
Repeatedly, these individuals do not hear or see me when I refer to the opportunity that the collapse of civilization may afford us or the rebirth of human consciousness that could unfold as the old paradigm crumbles and a new one erupts. In my book in process, I am among other things, painstakingly taking the reader through a process of introspection regarding collapse and rebirth, inviting her/him to be aware of the feelings that loom or lie dormant around the end of the world as we have known it. I do not expect it to be easy for anyone to acknowledge the reality of collapse; it certainly has not been for me. I have only been able to open to its irrefutable truth because I have had the support of others and because of a deep and abiding sense of meaning that I experience in the demise of empire. For me, both are extremely “positive” forces in my life-more authentically positive than “hope” or “optimism” or voting for the Democratic Party.
When I speak of rebirth, this is not for me some airy-fairy fantasy about “positive outcome”. In my opinion, rebirth is absolutely the most apt description of civilization’s demise. For most women, birth is no walk in the park-it’s painful, bloody, and very uncertain. What is born may be healthy and intact, or it may be impaired. Whoever is born must be nurtured, tended, given structure and limits, and he or she will at some point (or many times) break one’s heart. Parents almost always admit that giving birth has changed them, and that as a result they will never be the same. Giving birth consigns one to a lifetime of responsibility and care for one’s offspring; sacrifices must be made, priorities re-arranged, personal comforts postponed, risks taken-all with no guarantee of “happily ever after.” From my perspective, rebirth and collapse are inextricably connected and consistently mirror each other.
Mimicking Mainstream Media
The “doomer” label belies the labeler’s inability to grasp the complexity of the person or position he/she is labeling. Had the reviewer of “What A Way To Go” mentioned above, thoroughly understood what the documentary is communicating, he would not have applied the label of “doomer” to it. Yes, the film maker lets us know that he is not interested in presenting any “happy chapters” that let the viewer off the hook, but he also repeatedly emphasizes the “new stories” that can be told and the new opportunities offered as a result of collapse, culminating in film’s pivotal and haunting question: Who do I want to be in the face of collapse?
Moreover, “doomer” labeling demonstrates a lack of capacity for comprehending paradoxes such as: Yes, civilization is collapsing, and that is an opportunity for rebirth-or one of my favorites from Derrick Jensen: “We’re fucked, and life is really, really good.” Paradox, two apparent opposites being true at the same time, complexity, holistic rather than black and white, either/or thinking appear to elude those who simplistically slap the unwarranted “doomer” label on whomever they choose.
Most egregiously, however, “doomer” labeling replicates the style of superficial mainstream and sensationalist journalism which refuses to deal with complexities and applies labels so that readers will not have to grapple with multi-layered reality. The prime motivation in this style of journalism is speed and brevity. As a result, readers are unable to view the rich and convoluted tapestry of an event, a story, a person, or a concept. Hence the old paradigm endures with no willingness to construct a new one!
Refusal To Admit That We Have No Government
A careful study of recent American history which I have endeavored to convey in my book U.S. History Uncensored reveals that although we may have a bureaucracy in Washington that operates myriad departments and provides services, in reality, we have no government. That is to say that what used to be the function of government has been usurped by corporations and centralized financial systems. Repeatedly, icons of the progressive left such as Jeremy Scahill in his brilliant book Blackwater, Naomi Klein in Shock Doctrine and in her latest article ” Outsourcing Government”, and Arianna Huffington as she appeared on Keith Olbermann’s “Countdown” on October 19 are telling us that it is now virtually impossible to determine where government ends and corporations begin. Only a few years ago, these same individuals probably would not have acknowledged this reality which actually has its roots in the late-nineteenth century and came to fruition in the Reagan and Clinton administrations.
Perpetually rigged elections are one glaring characteristic of this reality. If there is no government, then there are no authentic choices in terms of political candidates because a candidate cannot even be nominated for the presidency unless she/he is owned by the plutocracy. The progressive left loves to deny the extent to which candidates are owned and persists in rationalizing: “But he/she has done so many wonderful things; he/she is so sincere; he/she has to appear conservative, but when he/she really sits in the Oval Office, everything will be different. She/he is the lesser evil.” Anyone who does not buy into this delusion must then be marginalized by labeling that person pessimistic, doomish, or even crazy. Moreover, this kind of marginalization mirrors the exclusion of individuals and groups by the political right that it finds intolerable, and thus I return to the thesis of Harvey Wasserman’s article: Why would neocons need Karl Rove when they have the Democrats?
Participation in the federal election process sanctions the lie that authentic choices exist in presidential politics and condones the use of the election chimera for the purposes of maintaining social control. It is progressive America’s method of choice for maintaining the dirty little secret of the toxic system-that Daddy is raping the kids, but we can’t talk about it! If we do admit this to ourselves and each other, we will feel hopeless, angry, sad, disempowered-unless, we accept that all of this is the result of the collapse of civilization, and that the most powerful act for any of us is admitting that collapse is real and beginning as soon as possible our preparation for it.
Overall, the Democratic progressive left refuses to acknowledge that not only do presidents and political parties not govern the United States, but they are in fact, irrelevant. The sovereignty of nations has been irreversibly eroded by corporatism and organizations such as the Bilderberg Group, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Trilateral Commission whose agenda is the dissolution of nation-states and the global dominance of corporations. Almost all of the candidates progressives tout as capable of reversing America’s descent into fascism are prominent members of one or more of these hegemonic organizations.
As Mike Byron states in the quote at the beginning of this article: People must first be made to give up on the existing system before they will become receptive to fundamental change. As long as we cling to the teddy bears of progressive politics, we embrace the old paradigm of civilization and paralyze ourselves so that we are unable to explore deeper layers of our current predicament. As a result, we allow ourselves to be distracted from the dire exigencies of collapse and any possibility of rationally preparing to navigate it, which only increases the severity of its repercussions.
Collapse/Rebirth Vs. Doomerism
I have written profusely about “the end of the world as we have known it”, but at the same time, I insist that the “endings” of which I write, are also beginnings. I have emphasized that the word “apocalypse” simply means “the unveiling” and that we are currently in the midst of a protracted apocalypse which is ripping the veil off all of civilization’s illusions. The result will be the dissolution of all of our institutions and the lifestyles of hubris and mindless consumption that permeate empire. What is also true, in my opinion, is that behind those is another reality that cries out to emerge in our consciousness-or, as author, storyteller, and mythologist Michael Meade has titled his forthcoming book: “the world behind the world.”
Characteristic of the culture of empire is its incapacity to appreciate paradox-a word inextricably connected with “paradise.” (Could it be that in order to ultimately experience “paradise”, it is necessary to appreciate paradox?) But in its typically polarized fashion, empire says that things are either alive or dead, ending or beginning, and that both cannot be occurring at the same time. Yet the origin of the word “end” is instructive because it originally implied not cessation but “the opposite side”. Nature, the ultimate teacher, perpetually demonstrates the “end” in the changing of the seasons such as we are currently experiencing, revealing that the falling leaves and withering grass are dying, but will be reborn in a different form in the springtime and come to fruition in the resplendent heat of summer. The world as we have known it is ending, only to regenerate and appear in some other form which we cannot yet imagine.
While that may sound gloriously reassuring to the hopeful and pathetically airy-fairy to the cynical, I emphasize that the metamorphosis of collapse into rebirth will not occur without enormous suffering. Yet one may ask, if nothing really comes to an end, why talk about collapse at all? Because in the real world, as opposed to the polarized delusional world of civilization, new beginnings cannot occur without endings, and the most adult response is neither denial nor doom. Rather it is the ability and willingness to acknowledge collapse on both the transformative level and on the human level. That is, we must understand its evolutionary significance but also prepare ourselves for the havoc it will wreak with our lives-our bodies, emotions, communities, families, economies, and the ecosystem.
In all transitions, the people who seem to weather them most effectively are those who can hold on to whatever is for them timeless and changeless. From concentration camp survivors to indigenous peoples who have lived through the extermination of their cultures, connection with that which they experience as eternal has facilitated their perseverance and survival. In other words, the capacity for finding meaning in the crumbling of civilization enhances one’s ability to endure and survive it.
The question I would ask those who assign the label “doomer” to those of us who irrepressibly speak of and write about collapse is: Can you allow yourself to become comfortable with paradox? Are your mind and heart large enough to hold the possibilities of rebirth alongside the reality of death? Can you withdraw from the drug of “hopeful politics” that prevents you from looking into the black maw of collapse with all its inevitable misery and uncertainty, yet at the same time entertain the potential that it may ultimately actualize for all of life on planet earth? I can do that; if you can’t, then please don’t call me a “doomer”.